As news of Jay Kennedy’s passing spread through out the weekend, cartoonists from all stripes are passing on their condolences and talking about their connection to Jay. One thing is clear from reading many of the comments on this blog, Jay connected with just about everyone. One reoccurring theme is the sheer number of aspiring cartoonists who received personal notes from Jay offering encouragement after their submissions were declined at King.
Here is a round up of some of the things that are being said around the web about Jay:
And though he and I never worked together (I have been with several syndicates over the years, but King was not one of them) Jay and I would always find the time to talk. We had a special connection, in that we both attended the School of Visual Arts in NYC. We used to talk about pretty much anything BUT cartooning.
The greater role Jay Kennedy served in my life was as a bridge. His presence at King was like having a fellow cartoonist embedded in the syndicate world, able to translate the business concerns of a newspaper syndicate to me, and translate the sensibilities of us cartoonists to the world of suits. The marvel is that he did this without changing voices, speaking in an authentic way that could be understood in both vastly different worlds.
Over the years, without quite knowing it, Jay and I became good friends. We cried together when each of us lost our wife and we danced at each other’s wedding. We walked with each other through life’s darkest nights. He was the only executive I’ve ever known who made more time to talk than I could afford. He listened. He was always available for a conversation. He loved taking an idea and examining it from every angle.
My late wife Lynn loved to sit with Jay at cartooning functions. At the end of the evening we’d compare notes on our conversations. I would have invariably spent the evening talking mundane cartoon matters with the cartoonists around me.
“Let’s see,” Lynn would say. “Jay and I talked about origami, Impressionism, Catcher in the Rye, post-traumatic stress syndrome, the war in Iraq and the the “69 Mets.”
You’re gonna read a lot over the next few days about how Jay took the time to hand write a note on a standard rejection form letter. Or how he helped a cartoonist starting out with a New Breed buy. Or how he took the time to say hello and talk at an event, no matter who you were.
The best part is its all true.
Listen, I didn’t know Jay well; we were barely acquaintances. But the few times I bumped into him, he knew who I was, gave me a moment, and left me with a kind word.
He was a really nice guy who did a hell of a lot for a lot of cartoonists. A better legacy I can’t imagine.
At last summer’s San Diego Comic-Con, I attended a panel featuring several syndicated cartoonists and afterward reintroduced myself to Brian Walker, who is a comics historian and writer in addition to his work on “Beetle Bailey” and “Hi and Lois,” two strips originated by his father Mort. I’d met Brian at my book launch in New York, he remembered me (I’m always surprised when people remember me), and after we talked for a minute he gestured to the man standing next to him and asked me, “do you know Jay Kennedy?”
After years of imagining Mr. Kennedy (“call me Jay”) as a giant of the industry, I was kind of shocked to meet a man much shorter than me who at first seemed very quiet, almost timid. I introduced myself, told him I’d written Mom’s Cancer, which he’d read–his wife had recently died of a rare blood disorder, though I have no idea if that experience and reading my book coincided–and figured this was my chance to tell him what I’d always wanted to:
“You won’t remember, it’s been a long time, but I submitted work to you and it meant more than you’ll ever know to get any feedback at all, let alone the kind of encouragement and respect you gave me. Thank you.”
And in fact he did still remember my work, said he’d always liked it and was sorry it didn’t work out, and we had such a great conversation that I’m afraid I rudely cut out Brian Walker, who kind of wandered off and I really hope doesn’t remember me now.
I haven’t tried to come up with a comic strip for a long time–just haven’t had any good ideas–but always in the back of my mind was the germ of a notion that I’d give it another shot someday and, when I did, Jay would be there to read it. I’m sad that will never happen and very glad I took the opportunity to thank him when I did.
When I was just starting out, Jay was one of the big, important, untouchable editors who took the time to write me a personal rejection letter and to talk on the phone with me, give me pointers, and encourage me to keep trying. He was the head of the largest syndicate with the most iconic features (Popeye, etc.), but he took time out of his day to talk to people nobody had ever heard of before. And he was just the same in person. I first stood in the same room with him in 2003 at the San Francisco NCS convention. He introduced himself, told me was sad about being too late to get Candorville (he’d been out of town when I sent him the submission, and wrote to me about it a few days after I’d already signed with the Washington Post Writers Group). And then we just talked for a while. One of the nicest, most genuine pony-tail wearing guys I’ve ever met. What a loss.